‘To be’ and not ‘to do’: The power of setting intent

The end of the year is a great time to consider positive changes for the future, but how can we do this without setting ourselves unrealistic goals and overcommitting?

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. My view is that if you want to achieve something, any time of year is a good starting point. Also, I think that a list of all the things you want to do differently or change about yourself can be a bit demoralising, particularly if, like me, you are prone to biting off a lot in one go. The last thing you want to do is to have an enormous task list facing you on the 1st of January.

However, it is natural to feel reflective at the end of the year and useful to use this internal analysis to make positive decisions about the forthcoming year. So for anyone looking to make changes in 2016, start by asking yourself what you want ‘to be’, rather than what you want ‘to do’.

In other words, think about how you want to feel, show up and behave differently. If we always focus on what we need to achieve next, we run the risk of becoming slaves to our ‘to do’ lists, too caught up in the moment to consider what would truly benefit our lives and others around us.

If you have set an intention towards a single state of being, you can use this as a starting point for all your actions. For example, my intent for next year is simply to be happy. I’ve chosen this intent as I took things pretty seriously over the last twelve months, and although I achieved a lot, I didn’t always enjoy the journey enough. Consequently, in 2016 I’d like to have a bit more fun. I’ll keep this aim at the front of my mind and make my choices accordingly, whether that means savouring my daily cappuccino a little bit more or taking extra time to enjoy being with my husband, friends and family.

This is just one example. You could set an intent towards any state that will benefit you. Wanting to feel energized could be all the motivation you need for daily exercise, and may also mean you make other improvements to your lifestyle and diet. The power of setting intent is that it removes the internal ‘shall I, shan’t I’ debate, which can be mentally exhausting, so you’ll just get on with whatever will help you reach your intent, without so much questioning.

Keep your intent to just one thing that really resonates as it will be hard to focus and achieve multiple intentions at the same time. And it doesn’t have to last you the whole year. Simply move on to a new intent when you feel satisfied you have integrated your last one into your life.

Importantly, when you decide on your intent make sure it is positive - so opt for ‘feeling energized’ rather than ‘less tired’; ‘to relax’ rather than to ‘feel less stressed’. And steer clear of introducing superlatives such as ‘to be happier’ or ‘fitter’ - this type of focus can mean we become too fixated on current negatives.

If you are looking to focus on your career in 2016, intentions around confidence and leadership can be very effective. A couple of  people I’ve coached recently have chosen ‘braver’ as the state of mind they want to maintain in 2016. They’ve signed a metaphorical contract with themselves to be more vocal and career-focused, rather than sitting back and letting things play out. This may well lead to a stronger version of themselves emerging.

Putting yourself in your stretch zone (which I discussed in my last blog post) can be another great intent to set from a career perspective. With this mindset, you’ll see potentially challenging situations as a chance to grow, rather than flee. That might mean applying for a new job, even if you don’t rigorously meet all the criteria. After all, what would be the point in taking a new role if there’s no opportunity to learn and develop?

Finally, don’t worry if you don’t have a clue how you’re going to move towards your new intent. The simple action of committing to it, putting it at the top of your ‘to do’ list and reminding yourself of it on a daily basis will open up possibilities. I use mine as the alarm message on my iphone to wake me up in the morning. Then each day, alongside the typical chaotic thoughts that bombard us, you’ll have an anchor to help you make the right choices for getting the most from your life in 2016.